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Shrinking IRS headcount: numbers from the Taxpayer Advocate

It's no secret that IRS service has suffered in recent years as the agency's budget has been cut and cut again by Congress.

In her annual report to Congress, the National Taxpayer Advocate, Nina Olson, marshals the numbers to show just how far the IRS's headcount has fallen.

The decline is immediately evident in the number of IRS offices. In 2011, there were 541 of those around the country. By 2016, the number had declined to 470. Taxpayer
Assistant Centers also decreased, from 401 to 376.

There has also been a big decline in the number of revenue officers (ROs) and revenue agents (RAs). In 2011, there were 4,402 revenue agents. Five years later, there were only 3,072.

The number of revenue agents also dropped, from nearly 12,000 in 2011 to fewer than 8,900 now.

The number of appeals officers (AOs) also went down, from 1,129 in 2011 to 739 in 2016.

All of these decreases happened at a time when the IRS's workload was increasing. The number of tax filings increased by almost four percent from Tax Year 2011 to Tax Year 2015.

The Taxpayer Advocate is concerned that such substantial and sustained budget cuts at the IRS are penny wise but pound foolish. The cuts have generally made it more difficult for taxpayers to comply with the tax code because assistance from the IRS is less available.

The effect, as the Taxpayer Advocate noted, is to erode confidence in the IRS and undercut the agency's ability to encourage voluntary compliance with the tax system.

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